GREAT FIGURES OF THE MISSIONARY WORK – Bengal and the Kingdom of the Dragon – 29

– Joaquim Magalhães de Castro

The climate and the general aspect of the country disappoints me, which I hoped to see more preserved, more authentic in its architecture. After all, the zinc roofs  are here also the predominant feature of the urban landscape…

We are at a height of a few hundred meters, and Jaygaon lies at our feet. Sangay, our guide, points to a long, winding gray wall, perfectly visible despite the fog. Then he says: “It was built to curb illegal emigration and stretches along the entire border line separating Bhutan from India.”

So. There’s a shameful wall here too and I did not know? As if he had heard my thoughts, the guide goes on: “The plain belongs to India, the mountainous area to Bhutan. This limit has been traced to end a conflict.” As late as the 19th century, the territory of Bhutan extended to the city of Cooch Bihar. The British, however, in an attempt to subdue the inhabitants of the fierce kingdom and integrate it into the Raj, were, from 1777, subtracting territory, pushing them to the Himalayan foothills, whether by arms or by treaties imposed to the force. In brief: a common trick among the children of the Albion who in matters as those are truly masters. The process of submission would be supplemented by the signing, in 1910, of the Treaty of Punakha, whereby the British agreed not to interfere in Bhutan’s internal affairs, which authorized Britain to coordinate its foreign affairs.

After its independence, India would pay monetary compensation to Bhutan for these lands which, however, would remain indian.

Somewhere through a breach of this wall to be built, the priests Estevao Cacela and Joao Cabral entered, with the necessary travel authorizations, a horse and a local guide whom the Raja of Cooch Behar had kindly provided for them.

A promising sign. At the first stop, Sangay gives proof of having the lesson well studied. It shows us the place where the intrepid Portuguese passed, there towards the side of the “gardens of Rangamati,” where probably the village was then relocated a few kilometers to the west. Sangay also tells us that according to the locals, at the top of a hill crossed by the old Paro road (used by the two priests) there is an ancestral rubber tree planted by Cacela and Cabral. “They took this initiative so that all the passers-by could sit in their shade.” Unfortunately there will be no opportunity to pay it a visit. Our agenda forces us to follow the main road and access the capital Thimphu. Nothing accustomed to organized travel, I feel a first and immense frustration. And also,  an undeniable added value for the documentary is lost.

Identifying elements par excellence of the Himalayan Buddhist universe, oratory flags and small shrines appear along the way: on the cliffs and on the curves of the road; fluttering freely, sometimes grazing the treetops; gracing the bridges; attached to the posts, as is due. A kind of banner with a cloth that is longer than wide draws attention to me, to evoke these banners so common in the Japanese and northern Samatra landscape. Undoubtedly a local peculiarity, which, together with so many others, distinguishes Bhutanese Buddhism from the Tibetan congener.

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